John McKendrick QC – Outer Temple Chambers, London

At 39, John is one of the youngest new Queen’s Counsel, appointed earlier this year at the silk ceremony in Westminster Hall in London.  John has a diverse practice, working in public, commercial and regulatory law in the UK, and also across Latin America and in the Caribbean.  John worked in Panama and is called to the Bar of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court and he is a fluent Spanish speaker.  John appears before a wide range of tribunals, from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, through the Court of Protection (C o P) to the full range of the Tribunal system.  He clearly relishes the range and variety of his practice, speaking with equal passion about dealing with complex medical ethics and law in the C o P (eg forced sterilisations in people who lack capacity) as about international and supra-national anti-corruption legislation.

John believes that the Bar is more diverse than it is sometimes given credit for (although it still has a long way to go) but that there is something about the way one is expected to talk and behave as a barrister tied up with the mores, ethos and traditions of the Bar that tend to mould barristers in such a way as to appear and sound more similar to one another than they might actually be.  John said that he comes originally from a working class family background in Glasgow.  His parents were aspirational and encouraged him to study law as “a safe option” that would provide social and economic security.  It was whilst studying law at the London School of Economics (which is cheek-by-jowl with Lincolns Inn and the Law Courts in the Strand) that John became attracted to the idea of becoming an advocate.

We discussed how John came to apply for silk.  He said that he had reached a point where he felt he could muster twelve credible judicial assessors for his application, having had a good two year period which included appearances before many different High Court judges.  So, he decided that the time was right to apply for silk.   As to the actual application process, John said that the application form was very long and rather tedious and it was undoubtedly time-consuming, but it meant that you had to be totally rigorous and honest with yourself, enabling you to assess whether you really had a viable application.  If you did not have the necessary cases and assessors then you would be wasting time, energy and money, he said.  John felt that becoming thoroughly familiar with the Guidance for Applicants helped him considerably, for example with a thorough understanding of the competencies in all their aspects.  He strongly recommended that all applicants read and re-read the Guidance.   John said that he found the on-line application form to be user-friendly and he felt that the word limits provided a good discipline.

The key to the whole application process, John said, was in having the twelve cases of substance (as defined in the Process); then “the rest falls into place”.  (I pointed out that the Panel will these days accept fewer cases if the applicant provides a suitable explanation.)

Turning to the interview, John said that he found this to be straightforward and that the Selection Panel interviewers were “very pleasant and put me at my ease”.  They ran him through all of the competencies and sought examples of what he had done to demonstrate excellence across the board.  When it came to the Diversity competence, John said that it was vital to have clear evidence of actual activity and to avoid talking in generalities and platitudes.  The nature of his practice gave him plenty of examples of diverse activity and behaviour to draw on in his application form and at interview.  It was important to think carefully about what you had done in the area and to set this out for the Panel.

As to any other ‘tips’ for those thinking about applying for silk in the future, John said that if in the two year period you had all the necessary cases of substance and potential assessors lined up, you should “pull out all the stops”, so that when you approached your assessors you knew that they will have seen you perform your very best advocacy, demonstrated use and knowledge of the law, diversity and so forth to a level of excellence:  It was, for example, “worth staying in chambers until midnight to polish off that skeleton.”

So what did it mean in practical terms to have the letters QC after your name as an advocate? John said it gave you the freedom to do “wider” things in terms of cases.  It “opened doors” to more interesting and complex work.  No longer being an extremely busy senior-junior meant fewer hearings and more time to really polish your written advocacy, to give your client that extra edge through the quality of your work.  Outside of the law, John hoped that being a silk would free up more time also for his work as a published author of travelogues and history  “although that will depend on how busy I am!”.

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